Despite its £99 price, the Orange San Francisco looks far more expensive, with a classy matt rubber chassis and 3.5-inch capacitive touch-screen
Android 2.1 makes for an intuitive OS with simple to use email, text/call, web and GPS features, but the many preloaded apps from Orange add little value and actually complicate use of the phone's native functions
Great web and GPS features for the price while the 100,000+ apps available from the Android Market add serious oomph to this low-cost handset
We love the 3.5-inch capacitive touch-screen, which is fast and responsive, and the device performs smoothly at web, email, maps and general navigation
Despite a low stated standby time and talktime, we found we could go over a day without recharging the phone, even with Wi-Fi, GPS and 3G on
You can get a lot for £100 these days, at least if you're looking at the affordable smartphone market. The Orange San Francisco is one of the best low-end smarties around, though as is unfortunately the case with these operator exclusives, it's loaded with all manner of junk software designed to make you spend money on Orange.
The San Francisco certainly belies its £99 price tag, with a charcoal matt rubber back and elegant full-touch design. The 3.5-inch screen is of the higher-end capacitive variety that supports multi-touch, and clocks in at a sharp 480 x 800 pixel resolution. There's a 3.2-megapixel camera with auto-focus and a LED flash, though like a surprisingly overwhelming majority of Android phones, it's really quite mediocre. A 3.5mm audio jack lets you plug in your own headphones, though at a mere 150MB of internal memory, you'll want to purchase a microSD card. The phone supports cards of up to 32GB, and the slot is handily positioned so that you can swap cards without removing the battery. We're also fans of the fact that it ships with a 2GB card.
Android 2.1, a relatively recent version, powers this trusty little device, so you'll have all the hallmark features you'd want in a smartphone: push email, a browser that lets you view pages like they'd look on a desktop, contact/mail/calendar sync with your desktop programs, access to about 100,000 apps at the Android Market, and sat-nav features with Google Maps. There are five homescreens to populate with app shortcuts and widgets, including one that lets you handily adjust Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, sync and display settings. Notifications of new mail, messages and other events appear at the top of the screen, and you can drag down to view these alerts, then tap to be taken straight to the relevant app. A toolbar at the base lets you access the dialer, inbox, contacts book and all programs menu from any home screen. Texting and calling are both nicely implemented features - the touch-screen is quite responsive and fast for a low-end phone, while you can simply start dialing a contact's name to bring up their number in the dialer. With the 2.3 update to the Android OS just around the corner, the San Fran's 2.1 OS is a tad dated, but more than sufficient for its hardware capabilities - for example, it's likely to crumple beneath the weight of actually running Flash Player 10.1 in its browser, a key feature of Android 2.3. As it is, the battery life is more than capable at handling Wi-Fi, 3G and GPS.
Unfortunately, Orange has loaded up the phone with reams of apps that basically double up the features you already get with apps native to the Android OS. There's Orange Maps, which is far inferior to Google Maps; App Shop where you can buy overpriced, mediocre apps that are far inferior to the ones on Android market; and Orange Mail, which costs an extra £1 a week, and is also the only way you can add non-Gmail accounts. All this is preloaded on the five home screens, and though you can spend some time deleting the shortcuts and reloading the screens with the Android versions, it's not particularly friendly to a smartphone first-timer (and the likely target audience for a low-cost device). The single useful app is Orange Wednesdays, which lets you purchase the 2-for-1 cinema tickets that Orange offers its customers at participating theatres.
Without Orange's bloatware, this is an excellent device, particularly for its price. It easily stands up to more expensive smartphones and absolutely wipes the floor with other devices in the £100 price range. Just make sure you do a software spring clean first.